Incus : 1978
EP, soprano sax.
In the pantheon of saxophone colossi, there is a special place reserved for Evan Parker. Taking late Coltrane as his jumping off point, Parker has expanded the language of the saxophone as much as anyone over the past three decades. A central figure in the European Free Improv scene alonside Derek Bailey, Peter Brotzmann, John Stevens, Alexander von Schlippenbach and many others, Parker has been a significant force for creative music in an astonishing array of settings.
Monoceros presents Parker in cyclical solo soprano mode, creating his own musical vocabulary from what initially sounds like an unbroken series of squeaks, wheezes, chirps and overtones. He fearlessly charts his own sonic course, navigating his own hard-won system of sonic logic and beauty in both of these concise pieces. There are flights of scorched-but-aching lyricism and insistent themes, but if you’re new to his work you’ll probably need to give the tracks a few spins to align yourself with their coordinates. It’s deep listening music — much of it flows by so fast it can create a bewildering, unexpected sort of stasis.
For those in NYC, Parker’s ongoing two-week residency at The Stone is an essential event. It’s similar to the highly recommended 50th Birthday Concert from 1994, serving as something of a career summation and a jumping off point for new directions. However, this line-up of collaborations is far more ambitious and wide-ranging: Milford Graves, John Zorn, George Lewis, Matthew Shipp, Sylvie Courvoisier,Tim Berne, Ikue Mori, Chris Corsano, Joe McPhee, William Parker, Fred Frith, and many others.
Both halves of Destination: Out were lucky enough to catch Parker’s show with drummer extraordinaire Susie Ibarra last week (and unlucky enough to be shut out of the Zorn set the previous night). Parker played tenor sax, and while his tone was instantly recognizable, it was far less astringent than the tracks on Monoceros. The rapport between the two was immediate and remarkable, and each of six pieces offered its own distinct structure and musical textures. Ibarra used the whole kit — including the air above it — and occasionally played some insistent rhythms, placing Parker’s playing in a different context than anything we’ve previously heard. Rather that hit hard with some circular breathing, Parker instead spent much of the evening exploring melodic cells and threading his way in and around Ibarra’s brush-, stick-, and mallet-work. There’s a word for what it’s like to witness musicians playing at this level: privileged. The generosity on display at The Stone is awe-inspiring.
These shows are being recorded by WKCR and (as we understand it) the tapes will be handed over to Parker. We sincerely hope he’ll be releasing a box set of this remarkable stand in the near future.
Have you been able to make any of the Parker residency in NYC? What’re your favorite Parker albums and/or performances?